LAKE PLACID - American bobsledders collected four out of a possible six medals Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg on a busy second day of the season-opening FIBT World Cup stop in Lake Placid.
Veteran Steve Holcomb led the U.S. charge, claiming gold in a two-man race that also saw Cory Butner drive to his first World Cup medal, a silver. In women's bobsledding, which was held in the morning, American Jazmine Fenlator earned her first medal as a driver by taking silver, followed by Elana Myers who captured the bronze.
The two-man and women's bobsled were just two of the races completed Friday, as the men's and women's skeleton contests wrapped up with a third and final heat after the first two runs were held Thursday. The Americans didn't reach the podium in the skeleton, but they did have a solid showing. In women's skeleton, reigning world champion Katie Uhlaender rebounded from a sloppy first run to claim fifth.
USA 1 driver Steven Holcomb and his brakeman Steve Langton board their sled to start the first run of Friday’s two-man World Cup bobsled competition at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
In the men's skeleton race, all three U.S. sliders who competed finished in the top 10. John Daly placed fourth, Kyle Tress followed in fifth and Matt Antoine was 10th.
In winning his fourth straight race on Lake Placid's track, Holcomb turned in the fastest time on both runs to win the first men's race of the season by six-tenths of a second, a fairly wide margin in the sport of bobsled. Along with brakeman Steve Langton, Holcomb put down runs of 55.56 and 56.19 seconds for a winning 1:51.75 total.
Standing fifth after a first run of 56.10 seconds, Butner and push athlete Charles Berkeley vaulted into second on their final trip with that run's second-fastest time, 56.25, to finish in 1:52. Francesco Friedrich and Gino Gerhardi of Germany rounded out the podium with a 1:52.44 third-place total.
The U.S. men could have swept the top three spots had it not been for a tough second run turned in by Nick Cunningham, who along with Butner are starting their first full season racing at the World Cup level. Cunningham and his brakeman Andreas Drbal were in third place after the first run, but Cunningham struggled navigating early curves near the top of the track in the second heat and ultimately finished fifth in 1:52.50, which was still just .06 away from a bronze-medal performance.
"I think the results today show just how great our team is," Holcomb said. "Cory and Nick, those guys have worked hard to get here, they are still young, and they just keep getting better. We are deep.
"We're working toward success at the Sochi Olympics, but right now, our goal realistically is to be in top form for the World Championships at St. Moritz," Holcomb added. "I've won a medal on every track but that one. I been fourth there nine times, so hopefully, this will be my year to medal."
After winning the World Championship title in Lake Placid in the final race of last season, Canada's Kaillie Humphries made it two victories in a row on the track, joining Chelsea Valios to take the gold Friday. They had the fastest sled in both heats, clocking times of 57.20 and 57.66 seconds for a winning 1:54.86 total.
Right behind the two Canadians were American sleds. Fenlator, who was a World Cup rookie driver a season ago, finally got to the podium, teaming up with U.S. Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones to get the job done.
Fenlator and Jones shot up from sixth place after the first run with the second-fastest finish in the final heat (57.82 seconds) for a runner-up 1:55.33 total, which was just under a half second behind the winning sled. Fenlator said she always visualizes winning a medal, but landing on the podium was a welcome surprise at the start of the season.
"This is my home track, it's my favorite track, and I'm thrilled with our result," Fenlator said. "I could feel the velocity of Lolo's push, and then I just drove.
"You always think about it, but I really didn't expect to be on the podium today," Fenlator added. "When you come down the track and look up at the clock, you want to see where you stack up against the world. Today it was second, and it felt great.
Jones, who missed medaling by one place in the 2012 London summer Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles, landed on the podium in her first-ever bobsled race. A little over a month ago, Jones had never even been in a bobsled.
"It was horrific. It was terrifying," was how Jones described her first trip in a bobsled before adding "I did it again the next day.
"I didn't have my fastest push times today, but Jazmine is an amazing driver," Jones said. "I did what I could, and then she just took control. I really like being part of a legit team where you count on teammates and they count on you. It's different than track. Today, Jasmine was just great."
Meyers and her push athlete Tianna Madison had the third-best results in each heat, and that's where they finished, taking the bronze with a 1:55.34 combined time, which was just .01 behind their USA Bobsled teammates. Meyers, who also finished third at Mount Van Hoevenberg in the 2012 World Championships, said it's great to be on the podium, but becoming a better driver is her main objective.
"It's nice to come up with a medal, but I'm more concerned with improving my driving," Meyers said. "I was hoping to start the season well, I wanted to have two good runs, and as a team we are off to a pretty good start. It was awesome seeing Jazmine get to the podium. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a solid season for our team."
Martins Dukurs, Reid capture skeleton gold
Latvia's Martins Dukurs, who has been dubbed "Superman" of the skeleton world, showed why he got the name by continuing his dominance in the sport. After taking the lead during Thursday's opening two heats, he clinched the victory again to lead a Latvian and family sweep of the two tops spots in the men's World Cup opener.
On the same track where he claimed the World Championship title earlier this year, Martins Dukurs won the gold Friday, but it was a close victory that saw his brother Tomass finish runner-up just .08 off the pace. Martins turned in the fastest first heat time, was third best on the second run, which both took place Thursday, and nailed down the victory with the quickest trip down the track in Friday's third run. Friday's skeleton races featured the 10 fastest finishers from the opening two runs.
Martins won with a 2:41.48 total, Tomass finished in 2:41.56, and Russia's Alexander Tretiakov claimed the bronze with a 2:41.65 combined time in the tight race among the top three finishers.
The rest of the field finished more than a second off the podium, and Daly led the American charge, finishing fourth in 2:42.96. Teammate Tress was one place back, taking fifth in 2:43.30. Antoine, who is battling back from knee surgery, grabbed 10th place with a 2:44.42 total.
Had it not been for what could be considered a horrible opening run Thursday, Uhlaender could have been standing on the podium, and possibly its highest step, following the World Cup women's season-opener. But instead of Uhlaender coming out on top, Sarah Reid led a one-two showing for Canada by claiming her first World Cup medal.
In order, Reid placed second, first and third in the three runs contested to win with a 2:47.70 total. She finished ahead of veteran teammate Mellisa Hollingsworth by just .03 of a second.
"My first medal, my first win," Reid said. "I'm over the moon right now. I had three really good runs, and that was what I was looking for. Winning, that's just a great bonus."
Saying she didn't get much training time in at Mount Van Hoevenberg for the season opener, Uhlaender started the race by placing 12th in the first run. However, she battled back into the top 10 on her next trip by putting down a run that was just .01 off that heat's top time, and held on to fifth place with the fastest final run Friday.
"The first heat threw me off," Uhlaender said. "I creamed the left wall in (curve) nine, and it just got worse. Then I got it back. Out of three heats, I was right up there in two out of the three, so I'm happy about that."
Uhlaender was the only American to advance into Friday's women's round of 10.
The FIBT World Cup stop in Lake Placid wraps up today with a four-man race where Holcomb hopes to make it five straight victories on the mile-long run at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Cunningham, who replaced the retired John Napier as the driver of USA II, will also be looking for redemption after he missed the podium in the two-man.
"I let it slip out of my hands," Cunningham said. "We were in position to sweep the podium, but I made some stupid mistakes. I really wanted to get that podium spot, but the good thing is that I still ended up fifth. Tomorrow is the four-man. It's a new day and a new race."